By Lorraine Walker
In 2002, the headlines were everywhere and the buzz in Southern Gospel was about the formation of a new quartet, with members that were just rumors and a sound that everyone wanted to hear. The Mystery Men Quartet were a silhouette only until they stepped out onto the stage for the very first time. Today, Ed Crawford, Jym Howe, Joe Armstrong and Chad Riley are sharing the Mystery with audiences across the nation who are enjoying Menâ€™s blend of traditional quartet singing.
One of the first questions asked about the Quartet is the origin of the name. Ed Crawford is no mystery to many long-time Southern Gospel fans, and he explains the meaning behind the moniker. â€œFirst of all, have you tried to find a new name for a group these days?â€ Crawford laughs, â€œGaither Vocal Band and The Oak Ridge Boys were both taken. We are not from Florida, so that was out; and the Kingsmen was taken. I think you get it.â€
The search for a name was exhausting, so the group took the challenge to the Ultimate Resource. â€œWhen we have a problem where do we go? We go to the Word of God. So we prayed and diligently sought the face of the Lord and came across Ephesians 6:19 where the Bible says: â€œGive me utterance that whenever I open my mouth I will boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel. And we thought who better to do that than The Mystery Men.â€
Ed Crawfordâ€™s commanding baritone gives the Mystery Men their Kingsmen flavour, but the harmonies that harken back to the Imperials era, as well as the versatility in their song selection make this group a quartet that is current for 2010. Although many are trying to be politically correct these days, the Mystery Men prefer to be â€œBiblically Correctâ€, according to their latest release, and their single, â€œCome On Down To The Farmâ€, has a controversial message that has again created a lot of buzz in Southern Gospel.
â€œFirst let me make one thing very clear: the Bible instructs us to love the sinner and hate the sin,â€ says Crawford. â€œTherefore we have no malice toward anyone. You do no one a favor and show no love by not telling a person the truth. We merely want to state the truth and this song does that.â€ For those who have not heard the song, â€œCome On Down To The Farmâ€ talks about the Biblical view on homosexuality. Crawford notes that negative comments and recommendations against singing the song have come from within the industry, but the fans of Southern Gospel have been overwhelmingly supportive.
â€œOne fan even started a Facebook fan page for the song and it is getting quite a bit of traffic,â€ Crawford comments. â€œIn Maine, during this last fallâ€™s election period, it was reported to us that the song was being used as a theme song and bumper music on many of the radio stations. We realized that the song was controversial after the first night when a lady said she did not think it was appropriate. Of course, that same night we received a standing ovation for the song.â€ Some radio stations have banned the song but others have welcomed the song and the response it has received, including several country stations. Every time the song is performed in person, there is a definite response from the crowd.
â€œThe response in concert is always the same,â€ says Crawford. â€œFirst, there is a look of amazement when they realize what we are saying, and then a huge standing ovation, many times starting during the song. I do not believe we have sung it one time that it has not been received with a standing ovation. I think the people in our country are relieved to see someone willing to stand up against what has become the secular mainstream and tell the truth. In fact, at the Nashville Flood Relief Benefit Concert in Nashville, after we finished the song one person yelled out, â€˜it is about time someone stood up and told the truth!â€™â€
As the Mystery Men watch their songs climb the gospel music charts, they are also watching their audience grow in diversity and size. They proclaim on their site that their concerts are â€œconscientiously programmed to appeal to all agesâ€. Crawford says that even the younger generation is tuning into their traditional sound, and Men know that all ages enjoy their music by the feedback on the Web. â€œWe hear all the time from young people that they had never enjoyed southern gospel music before, but they love The Mystery Men. We also judge by the response on our Facebook page and the people that contact us on Myspace, Twitter, and through our website. What thrills us is the fact that many of these friends are new fans to SG music.â€
Crawford is thrilled with the fact that their music is crossing the generational boundaries. â€œWe see all ages at our concerts and all ages wearing our t-shirts and all ages buying our product. We do demographic tests regularly and they reveal that the older and young alike are really enjoying our music. And we make a concerted effort to tailor each concert to the meet the desires of that particular audience according to their age and what they are responding to. In other words we have no set program; our program is called on stage.â€
Some groups in the industry have found their audience is dwindling and would like to extend their influence to a wider range of demographics. Crawford says, â€œMy advice to those who would like to broaden their audience is to not get locked in on just styles you like to sing or hear. Be willing to sing a broad scope of music and blend it to the audience of the night. Be sensitive to your audience and what they enjoy. But be as meticulous with what you donâ€™t necessarily like as you are with the things that you do like. In other words, be a professional in every aspect of your presentation. After all, doesn’t Jesus require our best? Ultimately, the reason we sing is to get a message across and if the people are not enjoying what they are hearing, they will never get the message.â€
Proclaiming the message is what the Mystery Men are all about and Ed Crawford had ample training in how to do that correctly throughout his years within the Southern Gospel industry. His influences and teachers are among some of the great legendary names in the field. â€œOne of my favorite people was Kenny Hinson, whom I spent a lot of time with and his brother, Ronnie. I have had so many influences, such as all of the old legends that I was so privileged to meet during my career with The Kingsmen. Men like Jake Hess, Hovie Lister, Glen Alred, Les Beasley, and so many of the pioneers. One of the great influences was Rex Nelon, who was always a class act.â€
â€œBut I would have to say my greatest influences were Jim Hamill, Eldridge Fox, and Ray Reese. I learned more from those three men in 10 years than I could have learned in a lifetime anywhere else. I learned the presentation from Jim, the business from Eldridge, and the pure professionalism from Ray. Iâ€™d like to take a minute to tip my hat to them.â€
Crawford continues, â€œThe best advice that I have received and that I would like to pass on to others came from Eldridge and Jim. That is to be real with what you believe, be real with the audience, and most importantly, to do it the same way every night. The person that comes to hear you on Sunday deserves the same excitement as those that came on Thursday, even if you are tired and worn out or sick or whatever. Get over it; it is about your personal best for the Lord and for the fans. Let’s face it, without the fans there would be no place to go sing.â€
As the Mystery Men continue to reach the fans with their music and their message, they have taken advantage of all that new technology has to offer to assist with their marketing. â€œWe feel that it has become a necessity today to stay in contact with your fans through electronic media such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, SoGoCity, and the list goes on and on,â€ says Crawford. â€œThe Mystery Men have tried to be active on all of these sites, staying in touch with and being accessible to our fans and friends, and letting them know what is going on with us and where we will be. The best thing about it is most of these sites are free. They cost you nothing but a little of your time.â€
Ed Crawford himself spends some of his time on the social networking sites when he is not busy with quartet business. Heâ€™s enjoying the current lineup and appreciates the fact that the Men all respect his years of experience. â€œI try to teach them what and how to do in their singing and presenting of the Gospel,â€ comments Crawford. â€œThe highlight is watching the younger guys grow in their personal presentation. The one thing I appreciate is the lives of each of the guys that are in The Mystery Men now. They live what they sing about. It is a blessing to see the sincerity in them, when we have individuals come forward for prayer.â€ However, Crawford remarks that some of the guys havenâ€™t been on the road that long and this can make for some hilarious moments. â€œIt is not uncommon for guys to get their days and nights mixed up, and when they have to get up on Sunday morning for an early church service, well it just isn’t a pretty sight.â€
When the Mystery Men have some spare time they enjoy indulging in their favorite hobbies. Crawford says, â€œI personally am a golfer and play every opportunity I can. Jym is into musical theater and he likes to attend stage shows, as well as fiddle with art. He oversees all our electronic media, and personally handles our email, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Chad seems to be our reader of the bunch and we do happen to get into some fairly deep theological discussions on the bus. We all seem to enjoy that.â€
â€œJoe is our resident sports authority.â€ Crawford continues. â€œJym is into history, antiques, and relics, thatâ€™s why he likes me. Chad is our baseball nut and Joe goes along with anything. If you canâ€™t get along with Joe, you just canâ€™t get along with anyone.â€
Although the Mystery Men are made up of individuals with varied experiences, personalities and interests, the Quartet together presents a unified message that truly is â€œBiblically Correctâ€. As Ed Crawford can attest, the only way for the Quartet to ensure that what they are saying is in line with the Scriptures is by making sure they know the Word and spend time with the Author. â€œI think there is only one way to keep grounded in our faith and that is to have a home church with a pastor that will teach as well as preach the Word. That is essential, but also making time on the road for some personal time with the Lord, both in prayer and in study.â€
As Ed Crawford and the Mystery Men continue to boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel, they are touching lives as well as opening eyes to the truth of todayâ€™s society and the truth of the Word of God. Their traditional quartet is reaching out with the timeless Word and unveiling the mystery that is Jesus Christ.
For more on the Mystery Men, click on to: www.themysterymen.com
Born and raised in southern Ontario, Canada, Lorraine Walker has been interested and involved in Southern Gospel Music since the mid-80â€™s. As part of a ladiesâ€™ trio, she became more familiar with this style of music and the people that made it popular, and began writing occasional articles for a Canadian publication on Southern Gospel.
Known online to her internet friends as â€œCanChikâ€, Lorraine began writing a monthly inspirational article entitled â€œCanChikâ€™s Cornerâ€ for www.johnlanier.com in 2002.Â This column began on www.sgmradio.com in January of 2005, a popular southern gospel music radio and information website which also publishes other features and interviews with her byline.
â€Reality Checkâ€ is a monthly column relating the realities of living every day as child of God. Lorraine welcomes your comments and suggestions, and you can write her at firstname.lastname@example.org